WATERVILLE — The Waterville Board of Education late Wednesday abruptly halted deliberations on deciding whether to dismiss Waterville Senior High School Principal Don Reiter, who is accused of asking a female student for sex.

About 8:39 p.m., after more than seven hours of testimony and discussions, mostly in executive session, board members left the George J. Mitchell School.

“They have suspended deliberations until 5 p.m. Monday,” Superintendent Eric Haley said after leaving the building.

Also outside, Reiter’s attorney, Gregg Frame, told reporters that board members needed more time to deliberate on the charge. He said no more witnesses would be called. Asked how Reiter was feeling, Frame said: “Frustrated, obviously. He wants it to be over. He wants to be back in school.”

It was a long, confusing day for the more than 125 people, including high school teachers, staff members, students, area residents and local lawyers who turned out Wednesday in the school gymnasium to watch the proceedings, which Reiter had requested be held in public.

Because of state and federal laws prohibiting that information about students be revealed, however, most of the hearing was held in executive session.

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Reiter, 44, of Mount Vernon, principal since 2007, was placed on administrative leave with pay Sept. 1 by Superintendent Eric Haley.

Haley and Assistant Superintendent Peter Thiboutot conducted a school investigation into the allegations and Haley also reported the case to police, who conducted a separate investigation and forwarded their report in the case to the district attorney’s office.

Haley a few weeks ago recommended to the school board that Reiter be dismissed from his job. Until Tuesday night, the first day of the dismissal hearing, the allegations against him were kept quiet.

Wednesday’s session had started at 1:30 p.m. After three and a half hours in executive session, the board emerged in open session while lawyers for both sides interviewed character witnesses who said Reiter was professional and a trustworthy principal.

After about 25 minutes, the board went back into executive session, with the board’s attorney, Bryan Dench. Reiter remained in the gymnasium, as did Frame, Haley, and others who are not board members.

After 20 more minutes, the board emerged from executive session and promptly voted to go back into executive session. All parties went into that session.

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Asked about the move to go so quickly back into executive session, Frame said as he was leaving the gymnasium that the parties were going to discuss whether to have closing statements in open or closed session and he was calling for them to be open.

It appeared most of those who were watching the hearing, including high school faculty and staff members, are Reiter supporters. When he came out of the initial executive session, most stood and clapped for several minutes.

When the crowd learned around 8:40 p.m. that the board was leaving for the night, attendees left the gymnasium, packed the hallway and chanted as Reiter left the building.

“We’re behind you, Don!” a woman shouted. Then the crowd chanted, “Don, Don, Don!”

Another woman yelled to Haley, asking if he could sleep at night.

Three uniformed officers were in the building’s foyer as Haley, Thiboutot and the others left. Members of the detective division had stayed mostly in the hallway throughout the hearing.

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Frame had led the questioning in open session Wednesday of Joyce Blakney, a mathematics teacher and president of the Waterville Education Association; Carol Laqualia, a school guidance counselor; and Claudia Pellerin, Reiter’s former secretary, who now works at the superintendent’s office.

Asked what they thought when they heard the charges against Reiter, Blakney said, “I thought it was ludicrous.”

Laqualia said she was upset as she “could not picture that happening,” and Pellerin said she was shocked.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” she said.

After the character witnesses testified, Dench, who is serving not only as the board’s attorney but also the hearing officer, suggested the board go back into executive session to consult with counsel about the board’s rights and duties. He said he expected the session would be brief. The board voted to go into executive session at 5:25 p.m. and emerged at 5:44 p.m., then went right back in to discuss whether to have closing statements in open or closed session.

Sometime after 7 p.m., board members asked a school official to go out to get them pizza.

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Melissa Hewey, the school department lawyer, had said Tuesday in opening statements that Haley recommends Reiter be terminated from his job for inappropriate conduct with a student for asking the student in his office to have sex with him.

She said the evidence would show that Reiter, in his office with the door closed, told the student “Every year I choose one student to have sex with, and this year I’ve picked you.”

The student was shocked and frozen and wondered if it was a joke, Hewey said. The student also was shaking and nervous.

Hewey said the evidence would show that on the day that occurred, Reiter was to have attended opening ceremonies at the alternative school, which he typically does every year, but on that day, he sent Assistant Principal Brian Laramee to the ceremonies. Reiter called the female student into his office from class, according to Hewey.

Reiter and Frame deny the allegations about the request for sex. Tuesday night, Frame told the board that Reiter is an excellent principal who has the support of his staff and an unblemished reputation.

“Sometimes even the best of us get it wrong, and Eric’s decision or recommendation for you to terminate is dead wrong,” Frame said.

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Reiter’s wife, Terri, filed for divorce two weeks after he was placed on paid administrative leave Sept. 1. Frame said she is on his list of witnesses to testify in support of Reiter, but he was not sure if she would testify.

High school sophomores Holly Madore and Coby Dangler, both 15, were sitting Wednesday in the front row, waiting to hear testimony. They also had attended Tuesday’s session.

They said the atmosphere in the school is unsettling because of the case.

“It’s kind of depressing, because I think he’s a good guy,” Dangler said of Reiter.

Madore said the teachers at the school have been trying to keep the case “hush-hush.”

“In a way, I hope he comes back,” she said of Reiter, “but after hearing that story, it’s kind of creepy.”

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On Tuesday, lawyers for both sides gave opening statements at the start of the 6 p.m. hearing and the board went into executive session in the school library for about three and a half hours. Members emerged from that session just after 10 p.m. and left the building without returning to their seats in the school gymnasium.

School board members are Sara Sylvester, chairwoman, and Joan Phillips-Sandy, Pamela Trinward, Maryanne Bernier, Tiffany LaLiberty, Elizabeth Bickford and Susan Reisert.

The hearing will continue Monday at the Mitchell School.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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